I felt more horrible than any other person had ever felt.
Even though I was in my favorite looking at the world spot – the window seat under the giant picture window in our living room where I could see from one end of the block to the other – and I was in my favorite watching-the- world position – standing on my head with my feet resting on the side wall for balance – I still felt absolutely, positively rotten.
My lips started tingling, so I lowered myself down and settled back in with my knees tucked up under my chin, I saw that nothing had changed. Nothing at all out of the ordinary was happening on Succotash Lane.
I looked exactly across the street and saw Mrs. Baumgartner looking back at me. She waved and gave me one of her special big smiles, the kind she mostly saved just for me. I fluttered my fingers a little and tried to make my lips curve up but I was pretty sure it didn’t work. She traced a heart on her picture window with the hand that wasn’t holding onto her cane and blew me a kiss. Mrs. Baumgartner knew that sometimes a kid can feel just horrible and it was okay not to pretend to be cheerful.
I cranked the window open slowly, trying not to make it creak, and let the breeze come inside. It had rained overnight so the outside smelled clean but somehow kind of wet. I stuck my nose right up against the screen and breathed it in as far as I could, trying to fill myself up with that clean air. Then I heard it. The rattling, banging sound that meant one thing.
I craned my neck to the left and looked two houses down from Mrs. Baumgartner’s. I could see just the tip top of a pile of not combed that day black hair. It was Wheeze. Well, his real name was Weatherby St. James, but everybody called him Wheeze. He was sitting on his porch playing Boggle. By himself. Like he did every single day.
In the middle of me feeling the teeniest bit sorry for Weatherby St. James for always having to stay on his porch on account of his bad asthma and always playing by himself because no other nine-year-old kid – including me – wants to play Boggle all the hours of the day, a thought jumped into my head. Right when I finished thinking that thought, I made a gasp so big it turned into a cough and then a choking fit.
I heard the curtains pull back and felt a hand clomping me on the back. I peeked over my shoulder and saw it was my dad.
“Amelia, are you okay?”
I nodded and tried to say, “uh huh,” only nothing but another choking sound came out. Then all of sudden the choking turned into something else kind of like crying.
My dad nudged me over and sat on the window seat right next to me, close enough to put his arm around me. He didn’t say anything else; he just sat there with me and hummed a hum really soft.
One of the very best things about my dad – and there were lots of best things – was that he was restful. He wasn’t going to pepper you with questions when something was bugging you. He’d wait until you were ready to talk about it. He was the exact opposite of my mom.
The crying sort of stopped by itself after a couple minutes and I took a few extra deep breaths until I got one to go all the way down and back up without making a hiccupy noise.
I peered out the window again. Mrs. Baumgartner was gone but I could still see the tip top of Wheeze’s sticking up hair. And I could hear the rattle clomp of him starting a new game of Boggle.
“I have a problem.”
“Okay. Is it a problem or is it a problem-o?” my dad asked.
“Problem-o. Definitely. Grade A, super-duper, extra bad problem-o.”
A long time ago when I was in second grade and life wasn’t exactly rosy for me, my dad and I came up with a system for deciding how big a problem was. Some, like forgetting to do the back side of my math worksheet, were just regular problems. But the big ones, the worst ones my dad called problem-o’s.
After giving me one last squeeze, my dad stood up and held out his hand and pulled me up, too. “Marshmallows?”
And because he was exactly right and marshmallows were exactly what I needed, I shuffled along behind him into the kitchen and slumped into the chair that he pulled out for me.
My dad rummaged around in the cupboard and pulled out a mostly full bag of jumbo marshmallows. He tossed it to me and then grabbed two bottles of apple-grape juice out of the fridge. After he twisted the caps off both bottles, my dad flipped the chair across from me around so it was facing backwards and straddled it. Then he looked at me with his whole self and made his eyebrows go up so high they disappeared under the floppy front part of his brown hair.
“I only have 13 days left to make a friend.” After I said it, I stuffed two marshmallows in my mouth to take away the taste of saying something so awful.
Now my dad’s eyebrows came back down, all the way down, until they were resting in a squiggly line just above his eyes, almost touching each other.
“Because of Caroline?”
My dad’s mouth was full of marshmallows and apple-grape juice, so he did that sideways wave thing with his hand that meant for me to keep talking.
“Well yes, it’s because of Caroline moving away, but the problem isn’t just that.” I crammed two more marshmallows in and tucked my chin down so far it touched the top of my favorite lime green and white striped t-shirt. “It’s that there’s no one else.”
“Amelia?” My dad reached across the table and captured my hand, the one that was sitting on the table like a dead fish.
I took a deep breath and said it. “She was my only friend.”
“That’s not true. I know she was your best friend, but you have other friends.” My dad’s voice sort of went up the tiniest bit at the end. I don’t think he meant for it to sound like a question, but it did.
I shook my head and drew figure eights on the table with the water that was forming on the outside of my juice. I remembered learning last year in science that it’s called condensation. I shook my head to get rid of that thought. I had a problem-o, I didn’t have time for thinking about science.
“I know it’s hard when a friend moves away, but I know when you think about it – really think about it – you’ll see that you have lots of other friends. Especially the other kids in your class.”
I peeked up at my dad through my too long bangs that were the exact same dark brown and the exact same floppy as his hair. He was smiling a smile that looked like it hurt. It was the smile I remembered from when he was teaching me how to ride my bike without training wheels and I’d fallen down at least 753 times. It was the smile he made when it seemed like I was hopeless at something.